The fourth name. Fourth! What were the chances?! Statistically speaking, I guessed they were as good as the chance of being drawn out at any position, though I’d never been very good with math. The longer it had gone on, the less names there would have been to pick from. That would make it more likely the longer it went on, right?
I had taken several steps before I even realised I was moving, and had made the end of the row before I started consciously making decisions. I hadn’t known how I would feel if my name was called, and I still didn’t really. Not knowing how to react, I continued the example set by Marin Jakobs, and made my way calmly to the stage. Once there, I was led around towards the back, and my wrist band was scanned. Then they basically shoved me out of the door.
My brain expected it to be dark outside, the experience had seemed to have taken so long, but in reality I’d been inside just around an hour. The bright sunshine caught me off-guard, and I felt a hand grip my arm, yanking me off to my right somewhere. Once I’d adjusted to the brightness, I saw that I was being taken to one of a half dozen transport ships sat on the ground. I clanked up the ramp, amazed by how small it looked from the outside. Once in, though, I realised that was deceptive. There were a lot of seats inside, all empty except for three. I went to take a seat away from the others, wanting a bit of space to myself, when a man by the ramp shouted at me to ‘close up’. It took a few seconds too many for me to work out what he meant, and he grabbed my arm, leading me to the row of seats containing Marin Jakobs, Rich Afrey, and Annalise Marie.
“Hey,” Marin said in greeting, almost cheerfully. I glared back at him in disbelief.
“Hey,” Rich shot back, very little power behind his voice. Annalise scowled.
“Yeah, we know,” Annalise said irritably. Everyone knows.” Marin shot her a puzzled look. “You were the first one picked. Thousands of people watched you walking down to the front, thanking the stars it wasn’t them. I near missed them calling my name, gawking at you with the rest of them.”
Marin frowned. I looked around as the next person took a seat next to me. She looked terrified.
“Hi,” Marin called over to her. She just stared back. I hoped he wasn’t going to greet everyone. It would make a very long wait even less bearable. “This is weird, isn’t it,” he continued, as another kid clanged up the ramp. “Did you think your name would get called?” he asked Rich. Rich shook his head. “I don’t know if I did or not. I kinda thought it might, but I wasn’t sure.”
“Well thats amazing,” Annalise said. “Really? You thought it could have gone either way, did you?” Her tone of annoyance drew the attention of the latest arrival, a round little boy with jet black hair, who looked to the rest of us in bewilderment.
“Did you think you’d get picked?” Marin asked her, seemingly oblivious to her demeanour.
“Are you joking?” she replied. “Are you actually joking?”
“I think he’s probably in shock,” the jet black hair kid said, sitting down. “Excuse me,” he called in the direction of the guy by the door, who ignored him. “Excuse me? I think this boy needs to be looked at?”
Letting out a sigh, I contemplated getting up and moving to the other side of the ship. Quiet time with my own thoughts. That would have been the ideal environment. Not listening to this nonsense. Just as I began to rise from my seat, though, the next boy to enter the ship was ushered vigorously to the next seat in our row. If I tried to move, I’d probably be in for an argument with the security guy. The last think I wanted to do was draw attention to myself.
“Excuse me,” the jet black haired boy tried again.
“I’m not in shock,” Marin piped up.
“I think you might be.”
“No, he’s just a dick,” Annalise said.
“I’m not a dick.”
“Are you in shock?” she asked him. He shook his head slowly. “There you go, then.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Rich piped up.
“Yeah,” Marin said emphatically.
“Look,” Annalise said. “Either you’re in shock, or you’re just a dick. And if you’re a dick, I suggest you pretend you’re in shock.”
Two more kids had joined us, and were both looking horrified at what they had walked into. The security guy was shaking his head, completely miserable. I wondered who he’d upset in order to get this job. The ship went quiet for a while as draftees joined us one by one. Most of them looked pale and nervous, and a few were quietly sniffling to themselves. A couple looked more angry than anything else.
“How long do you think we’ll be sitting here?” Marin asked, and I let out a sigh. I couldn’t decide what was more annoying – his inane babble, or Annalise’s aggressive shouting.
“Is the ship full yet?” Annalise asked him. “Maybe we’ll be leaving when it is? Do you think?”
“Shut up,” Marin replied, finally finding some anger.
“You shut up.”
“You shut up.”
“You shut up.”
“Why don’t you both shut up,” one of the angry looking kids shouted. “It’s bad enough they’re gonna send us to our deaths, but now I have to listen to you two idiots carrying on!” He slammed the arms of his seat in frustration. The security guy twitched at this, and glared at the kid. The kid didn’t notice, though. He was too busy burning a hole through the floor with his stare.
The ship descended into grim silence. As more people filled the room, though, a low murmur began, as some started chatting amongst themselves. I was glad I wasn’t sat next to someone who wanted to talk. Annalise had a mouth on her, but she didn’t seem in the mood for conversation. The girl on the other side of me still looked petrified, and she actually might have been in shock. I looked around for a reflective surface, to see what I looked like to everyone else. I felt pretty calm, but it was all a bit overwhelming. Being conscripted hadn’t been one of my life’s goals, though it didn’t seem like the worst thing that could happen to me. A fresh start, a bit of direction in my life. It was funny. I hated being told what to do, yet the idea of someone directing my life for me felt like something of a relief.
The ship was three quarters full, and it was getting quite loud. Marin and Rich were deep in conversation, I noticed, though were whispering incredibly quietly. Right up to each other’s faces, for fear, presumably, of another rollicking from Annalise. I glanced sidelong at her. Was she just stressed about being taken away from her family? Or was she genuinely a mean, angry person? I’d have to deal with all sorts in the Division. Seb and Ant were really laid back, funny guys. Ant was a bit of an idiot sometimes, but they were very easy to spend time with I’d gotten lucky falling in with them. I might not get nearly so lucky when we arrived… well, wherever it was we were actually going. I felt a tingle inside. Flying off into the unknown. It was the biggest thing to have ever happened to me. Since my father’s death, of course. We’d never really travelled very far. I’d lived 95% of my life within the same five or six blocks. Now I was going up into space. Looking around, I noticed for the first time there weren’t any windows. My heart sank. It would be a long journey, and getting to look out at the stars, through the black, had been one of the few things I’d thought would be really cool about the journey. Why couldn’t they have given us some windows?
The ship was almost completely full, and I was suddenly aware of how many people were sat around me. Soon, the door would be closed, and there’d be no getting out. Trapped in a small room with hundreds of kids, some of them very annoying, for several hours. I began to feel claustrophobic. I wanted some fresh air, but I couldn’t be any further away from the door. My head swimming, I tried to get up, but my legs had gone soft and floppy. Whether it was fear, or low blood-sugar, I couldn’t have said. Either way, I was starting to feel faint. Closing my eyes, I tried to pull myself together. It was fine. It wasn’t a small room, and we’d all be strapped in, so no-one would be getting any closer to me. Opening my eyes, I felt a little better. Then the door started closing. Taking deep breaths, I closed them again. I imagined I was out on the huge, empty stone lot that we sometimes threw an old wheel around on. Seb and Ant would come into possession of all sorts of weird and wonderful toys. Sports equipment, electronics. Nothing ever lasted very long before they got bored with it. But that wheel. They’d had it for as long as I’d known them, yet we’d play with it regularly. They’d made up about a dozen different games with it. They were a few years older than me, but were still little kids at heart. I’d miss them.
Some sort of announcement broke me from my trance. The ship began rumbling beneath me, and instinctively I gripped the armrests. There were panicked faces all around, likely no-one having ever experienced space travel before. A large proportion of the room’s inhabitants looked towards the door, as if there might be some chance of getting off. The rumble got louder, and the ship was suddenly shaking. I was pushed down lightly in my chair as we began to lift off of the ground. I jerked to the side slightly as we rotated. The force keeping me pushed down in my chair changed subtly, until all my weight was concentrated on my back rather than my butt. The pressure grew for a while, and then we suddenly hit turbulence. Rocking from side to side, I almost clashed heads with Annalise, our restraints just about holding us far enough away from each other. I felt a bit queasy, and just as I was beginning to think I might be sick, everything went still. The passengers exchanged puzzled looks for a few moments. The pressure eased away, and I didn’t feel my weight pushing me back any more. In fact, I couldn’t feel my weight at all. We’d left the planet’s gravitational pull behind. We were in space.
You can read Chapter Seven here